By the time the wedding came around, we were very grateful for Hera’s dismissal, because Calliope was indeed showing. She looked like a mortal woman entering her third trimester. Out of necessity, we confirmed to the rest of the Muses that she was pregnant. They swore secrecy and didn’t ask any more questions. Aglaea didn’t ask questions, either, when Hera told her that Calliope, Apollo, and I wouldn’t be attending the wedding.
Hephaestus did. He wanted to persuade Hera to change her mind, but Aglaea managed to convince him that it was for the best. It was good that, with all the preparations for the next day’s twilight journey, the three of us didn’t have the time or energy to think about how much we would miss getting to see this wedding, and how much we wished we could tell Aglaea and Hephaestus why it couldn’t be helped.
Well, Apollo and I were making preparations. Calliope was in a deep, restful, potion-enhanced sleep. “I’m still worried about the lighting,” said Apollo as he checklisted his supplies for the thousandth time, packing and repacking them in waterproof bags and boxes. Being one of the Twelve, he could just teleport ahead with the supplies, but he didn’t want to leave Calliope at any point in the journey. “I’ve got plenty of candles and torches, but my sunlight orbs are the safest option, and they won’t work in Hades.”
“What happens when you smile in Hades?” was my not remotely serious suggestion.
“Nothing remarkable,” he replied, but the slight smile he was giving at that moment made me wonder.
“You packed plenty of potions to keep her calm and to numb the pain?” I surveyed, even though I knew the answer was the same as it had been half an hour ago.
“And you have things for anything that might go wrong with the babies?”
“Anything we’ve thought of. Get some sleep. We’ll need you at optimum power for the journey.”
“Are you going to bed?” I asked him.
“I want to go over a few more things first,” he said.
“Well, then, I’m not going to bed either, and you can’t make me.”
He stopped what he was doing, picked me up, and cradled me in his arms. “We’ll see about that,” he smiled. He sat down in the corner of a cushiony chaise lounge, laid me down with my head in his lap, and put a blanket and an arm over me. Surely even you mortals understand that all of this was happening because I wanted it to. “We’re staying here until you fall asleep,” he stated.
“Can I sing myself to sleep?” I asked.
“If you must.”
I softly sang a few bars of an enchanted lullaby. As soon as I was satisfied with his lack of response and the rhythm of his breathing, I slipped out of his arms and onto the floor, still singing. As I finished the song, I laid him out on the chaise, put a pillow under his head, and covered him with the blanket. “Sweet dreams,” I quietly wished him as I removed his laurel wreath and set it on a small table next to the chaise. I tiptoed out of the room and into my own bed. It was late, and I needed to be at optimum power for the journey.
I slept a lot longer than I had planned to, but all three of us woke up in time to give Aglaea our love and blessings before she left to prepare for the wedding. She hadn’t put on jewelry or makeup yet, and her hair was still loose, but she was wearing the stunning red gown that my sisters and I had designed for her. Although red is a more ostentatious color than she normally likes to wear, she’d happily made an exception for the time-honored wedding tradition. Apollo had tears in his eyes when he saw her. I figured it would be embarrassing for him to be the only one crying, so I let a few tears roll down my cheeks out of pity. Pesky things wouldn’t dry up after she left, so I kept my mask on.
“How soon can we leave?” Calliope asked once we were sure we were alone.
“Stop pacing,” I urged her. She was making herself more agitated, and she was pacing right where I wanted to pace.
“Give it a few more hours,” said Apollo.
“How much could the babies possibly grow in just a few hours?” she argued.
“They’ve grown since last night,” he pointed out.
“Well, can’t we just get to Lake Mnemosyne and let them grow there?” she continued to pace with increasing fervor. “As long as I’m here, Zeus can find them, and Hera can find me. I wouldn’t put it past either one of them to reach up and rip the babies out with their bare hands.”
“If Hera hasn’t figured it out yet, she’s not going to figure it out in the next four hours,” I reasoned. “Apollo, do you see anything?”
“Nothing,” he said. “I haven’t been able to see any visions about these children, but I’d take that as a good sign. My visions don’t extend to Hades.”
“I hope that’s all it means,” Calliope fretted.
“They can’t die,” he reminded her. “You know they can’t. Whatever happens today, your children will be alive, and you will be alive.”
“That’s not always a comforting thought,” she sighed.
“I know.” Apollo took her hand and led her to her throne. “If you insist on pacing, you might as well be swimming. You wait here, Thalia and I will get the supplies, and we’ll get going.”
“Well, this is a nice surprise,” Mom rejoiced between a full round of hugs and kisses. “Calliope, I had no idea you were expecting again! Is it Ares’? As long has he has no hand in raising it, a child by you and him could turn out beautifully. Look at the Amazons.”
“Mom, it’s…it’s not Ares.”
We told her the whole story. “Oh, my baby,” Mom held Calliope. “I am so, so sorry. I can’t believe he did this to you after he…The best revenge I can think of is ensuring that he never knows about your children. If he does find out, so much the better. Let him suffer the knowledge that he has seven fine children with my beautiful daughter, and they’re forever beyond his reach. I’ll keep them here and bring them up as my priests or priestesses, whichever the case may be. You can see them as much or as little as you’d like. Either way, they’ll remember that you’re their mother and you gave them up because you love them.”
Calliope couldn’t speak. She just stayed in Mom’s arms for awhile and cried into her shoulder. After what seemed like both seconds and days, she wiped her eyes and said, “Let’s get this over with.”
Apollo and I unpacked the supplies and set up a field clinic. As I was sorting the scalpels for him, I was blindsided by a realization. Do you know the difference between a thought and a realization? It’s the difference between a cool, clinical description of a medical procedure and a cold, steel blade slicing through your sister’s abdomen so her seven babies can be cut out of her uterus. I’d never watched a surgery, and I’d assisted exactly one birth in my life. I resolved that I’d stay focused on the end of the story and do my best to overlook the middle, but resolution can only go so far. Stories are full of people who find that, in extreme situations, they’re capable of so much more than they imagined they were. Real life is full of people who find that they’re capable of so much less.
“Apollo, did we bring any wine?” I barely moved my lips to ask as I stood with my arms limp at my side.
“Why would I do that? A surgeon can’t drink on the job.”
“You do this sober?”
“This is no time to be funny. Hand me the numbing potion. Oh, damn it; Aglaea!”
“Thalia,” I reminded him.
“Aglaea’s summoning me,” he clarified. “She’s at the Museum, and she seems pretty mad. Go. Make something up. Just get rid of her.”
I swam to the Springs of Helicon and teleported to the Parnassus Museum as quickly as possible. I couldn’t have Aglaea going back to Olympus and telling people the three of us were missing. She was still at the Museum, in the middle of Apollo’s storeroom. Her face was painted, her hair was coiffed and decorated, and she was covered in jewels. While she looked absolutely breathtaking, anyone who knew her could recognize that she was the canvas, not the artist. “I summoned Apollo,” she scowled in indignation. “Why are you here?”
“Why are you here?” I threw back the question. “You’re getting married in…I actually have no idea what time it is.”
“The wedding’s in half an hour,” she said, the very personification of impatience. “Apollo and Calliope are at Lake Mnemosyne, aren’t they?”
“Why are you soaking wet?”
“Because it’s good luck for the bride to see a drenched Muse before the wedding.”
“Hermes,” Aglaea summoned. The Wingfooted Wonder appeared in the store room. “Give this to Hephaestus. It should make his leg stop hurting,” she handed him a jar of salve. “It always hurts more when he’s stressed. Tell him there’s been an emergency, I might be a little late, and I can’t tell him why, so please don’t ask; and I love him and I can’t wait to be married to him; and if he starts to worry about me, to remember what I told him at the end of our first date. And, Hermes, if you alter that message or obscure its meaning in any way, shape, or form, I will cut off whatever part of your body strikes my fancy and feed it to the Hydra. Got it?”
“Never have I understood an order with such absolute clarity,” he blinked. He left to carry out her wishes.
“Now,” said Aglaea, “we’re going to teleport to the Helicon Museum, and you’re going to take me to Lake Mnemosyne.”
“No, you’re going to get yourself to Olympus and get your damn wedding over with,” I argued.
“Take me, or I tell Hera that you lied to her.”
“You wouldn’t do that. You care too much about Calliope.”
“Which is why I’m going back to Lake Mnemosyne with you,” Aglaea protested. “I can see what’s missing from this storeroom. I know what Apollo’s doing, and I know I can do it better. Medicine is only one of Apollo’s specialties. It’s my whole life. The only ones in my family who can do an Asclepian better than I can are Dad and Panacea. They’re not fully divine, and thanks to Hera, I am. You’re a citizen of Hades by birth. Once you invite me, there’s no risk in me going there. And you are going to invite me.”
“Thalia, I told you to get rid of her!” Apollo protested as Aglaea emerged from the lake, her wedding gown soaked through, makeup streaming down her face, loosened hair plastered to her head and back, and bracelets clanking down her arm.
“You weren’t seriously going to perform an Asclepian without a proper assistant, were you?” Aglaea chastened as she shoved her jewelry off her body and into a box. “Someone hand me a towel. Wait, what am I saying?” Upon remembering that she was a beauty goddess now, Aglaea snapped her fingers a few times in succession. By the time she was done, her dress looked like it had been wrung out to dry, her face was devoid of makeup, her hair was severely pulled up out of her way in a style that would make Artemis proud, and the one sandal she was wearing was still soaked. I didn’t dare laugh at the spectacle, or question the loss of the other sandal.
“I’m not alone,” Apollo defended while all this was going on. “I brought Thalia.”
“What was she going to do? Write a quirky screwball comedy about a group of physicians? If you want someone to assist with surgery, bring a damn surgeon. Hey, Calliope,” Aglaea instantly went from commanding to comforting. “Everything is going to be fine. You want to know if you’re having sons or daughters?”
“Surprise me,” Calliope said with a nervous smile. Mom was kneeling by the cot and holding Calliope’s hand.
“I’m Mnemosyne. You must be Aglaea,” she said calmly. “I’ve heard a lot about you. I hope your powers as a goddess of healing meet, even exceed, your powers as a goddess of beauty. Thalia, sweetheart, come sit by me and your sister.”
“Yeah, do that,” Aglaea agreed. “Is this all the lighting we have?” she frowned at the ring of candles.
“In case you were under a different impression, this is Hades,” Apollo sympathized with her dissatisfaction. “Sunlight isn’t allowed here.”
“But there is some natural light,” Aglaea pondered. “I wonder…” She reached for the box with her jewelry and pulled out Hephaestus’ wedding ring. The moonstone shone more brilliantly in the darkness of the Underworld than it ever had in Zeus’ kingdom. Aglaea gently breathed on the stone and, like the flame of a candle, it burned even brighter, until Aglaea appeared to be holding a star in her hand. “Mnemosyne, are you telekinetic?” she asked. Without a word, Mom levitated the ring out of Aglaea’s hand and positioned it at just the right spot over Calliope’s body. “Thanks,” said Aglaea. “If you could just hold it there until we’re done, that’d be great.”
“What can I do?” I asked.
“You know what you can do,” Apollo looked me straight in the eye. “I believe you can do it.”
As I sat next to Mom, I heard her voice in my head. She hadn’t spoken to me telepathically since I was a little girl. So you are learning, she said. She sounded concerned, resigned. My Thalia, my blossom; as you begin to remember the powers I’ve given you, don’t be afraid, but do please be very, very careful.
Remember? I repeated. What do you mean, remember?
I’ve said too much already, Mom shook her head. Right now, just focus your energy on the end of this story.
That I could do. Focusing on the surgery, not so much. I learned something about myself that day. Some people are not made to watch other people get carved up. I am one of those people.
The surgery went well, and the babies were just fine. Boys, all seven of them, each half the size of a full-term baby. They were all identical, and they all looked like Calliope – who, as she so appropriately thanked the Fates, looks like me. As Mom and I bathed the newborns one by one, we put a pomegranate seed in each of their mouths. Eating that one seed was enough to make them citizens of Hades, out of Zeus’ reach as long as they stayed in the Underworld. One by one we set the babies in the lake, and one by one they swam to the murky depths. My sisters and I had started out the same way. We knew the boys would be fine, and that we could summon them back to the shore to say goodbye before we left.
Aglaea sewed Calliope’s incision shut and applied a few drops from a tincture. “Apollo can take the stitches out when they’re ready,” she said. “Mom has a salve that’ll get rid of the scar. No one will ever have to know you had the Asclepian.”
“I wonder what time it is,” said Apollo. “I can never tell when I’m in Hades.”
“Probably late enough that hundreds of bored, restless, hungry gods want my head on a pike,” Aglaea laughed. “I’m almost scared to go back. Hera’s going to-”
“Be furious with both of us,” finished Hephaestus, who had suddenly appeared in our midst, holding Aglaea’s missing sandal.
Aglaea ran to him and threw her arms around him. “You got my message,” she said in relief as soon as she was done kissing him.
“Took me long enough,” he laughed. He kissed her again. “I was so worried,” he said. “I was afraid you were getting cold feet. For a moment I even wondered if you were off having one last fling. That’s when I realized that I was being a complete idiot. I thought about your message, about what you said at the end of our first date. It was ‘Let’s meet here again,’ right?”
“Right, at Helicon,” she grinned.
“Ohhhhh,” Apollo and I said together. So that was how Aglaea had kept her word not to go to Olympus when she was staying with us.
“I saw your sandal by the Springs, and it was easy to figure from there,” Hephaestus continued, “especially combined with the fact that two Muses were missing. Good thing Thalia never revoked her standing invitation. By the way, you want this back?” he offered the sandal. “I can dip it in the lake first if you want it to match the other one.”
Aglaea laughed as she took the sandal and smacked him with it. The sandal on her foot wasn’t as dripping wet as it had been when she’d first emerged from the lake, but it was still pretty damp, and the rest of her attire was still in the haphazard state she’d snapped it into pre-surgery. Hephaestus, on the other hand, was looking finer than I’d ever seen him, his first wedding not excepted. His groom’s chiton, like Aglaea’s gown, was the traditional scarlet, edged in gold to match the circlet he wore on his head. And his hair! Apparently he had decided to acknowledge the existence of styling products just this once. His cane was new. Its solid aesthetics and polished mahogany composition added to his characteristically rugged yet unexpectedly elegant overall appearance.
“I totally forgot that you could just teleport into Hades since you’re one of the Twelve,” Aglaea blissfully scolded as she dropped her sandal and awkwardly shoved her foot into it. “Don’t you know no one’s allowed to look better than the bride on her wedding day?”
He ran a hand through her hair, taking a few pins out. “Don’t you know that’s not possible?” She made a face at him as she snapped her fingers, sweeping her hair into the charming, unassuming updo she’d worn at Persephone’s feast. “It was cute the other way, but this works, too,” Hephaestus judged.
“Hera’s going to hate it,” Aglaea sighed. “I almost wish we didn’t have to go back. I don’t care about all that pageantry and stuff. I just want to say I want you and hear you say you want me and be married. We could do it here, like this, for all I care.”
“I know, so could I, but you know we can’t- no, actually, we could do that,” he said with sudden comprehension.
“We could!” she exclaimed in kind. “You want to do that? I would do that.”
“Let’s do that.”
“Oh, a clandestine wedding in the Underworld!” Calliope rose to her feet in rapture. “May I summon Hades for you? Please? I’d love to be a part of this.”
“Sure,” Aglaea consented.
“Oh, hi, Calliope,” Hephaestus finally noticed her. “Why were you lying on that cot?”
“Not important. Hades, Lord of the Underworld, we beseech your presence,” she cried with her face turned toward her upstretched hands.
Seeing Hades always makes me feel a bit nostalgic. He looked the same as ever that day. Once you get past the individual trappings, Hades’ face and figure bear a strong resemblance to Zeus’. However, both kings’ appearances are so influenced by their personalities that it’s hard to see the similarities. With his long, straight, black hair, his long, black robes, his iron crown, and his stand-offish demeanor, it’s easy to see how Persephone saw a soul mate in Hades from the moment they met.
“Muses,” Hades growled. “Always the drama queens. What do you want?”
“He’s always a little grouchy when his wife’s away,” Mom apologized.
“We want you to marry us,” said Aglaea.
“You I know,” he pointed to Hephaestus. To Aglaea, he said, “You I don’t.”
“I’m Aglaea, daughter of Asclepius and Epione, goddess of-”
“A name, I just need a name. Aglaea, do you consent to be given to this man?” he spoke the words Asclepius would have spoken if he had been there.
“Hephaestus, do you consent to be given this woman?” he asked in place of Hera.
“Then as guardian of this realm,” he said, speaking again in place of Asclepius, “I give her to you, that together you may create a home and a family with honor. Rings; let me see some rings and then I’m out of here.”
Hephaestus took Aglaea’s ring out of his pocket and put it on her left ring finger. She grabbed his ring from its place over the operating table and gave it to him.
“Alright, the rest you can do yourselves,” Hades proclaimed before he unceremoniously disappeared.
“We could do without this part if you want,” Hephaestus hesitated.
“Come on, baby,” Aglaea enticed as she held her wrists together and fluttered her fingers. “A wedding in Hades wouldn’t be complete without it.”
“Remember, it was your idea,” Hephaestus disclaimed.
“It was also Persephone’s. Get on with it,” Aglaea challenged.
With a strong, gentle hand that could forge a golden chain as thin as a spider’s web as well as an iron spear, Hephaestus grasped Aglaea’s wrists. She laughed as he held them over her head and proclaimed, “I have taken this woman. She is my own, and none can take her from me.” He led his captive bride into the lake until they were deep enough that he didn’t need to lean on his cane. Then he picked her up and carried her until they were out of sight.
Calliope put her arm around me and, with a contented sigh, declared, “That was truly epic.”
“What’s going to be epic is when Hera finds out she was cheated out a wedding,” I snorted a laugh. “Maybe we should stay down here for awhile.”
“I was actually going to suggest that,” said Apollo. “I don’t want Calliope to swim yet.”
“I think I can,” said Calliope. “Look.” She parted the wrap in her dress and showed Apollo her incision. It was completely knit together.
“Are you sure?” he cautioned. “You’ve been through a lot today. We understand if you want to rest.”
“I want to get back to my own room and my own house,” said Calliope. “Just give me a moment to say goodbye to my babies.” She made a silent summons.
Seven fully grown, bearded men strode up from the lake, moving in unison in a perfect V formation. They bowed to Calliope and addressed her with one voice.
“Mother,” they greeted her. “We are the Corybantes, created by Zeus to be his priests and keep vigil at his altar. We thank you for giving us instead to the service of Mnemosyne, for we find our father unworthy of our devotion.”
“Please, don’t,” Calliope begged. “If he were to discover you saying such a thing, he would curse you beyond your imagination.”
“As the sons of a Muse, there is nothing beyond our imagination,” they replied. “Our words will not reach his ears here. We renounce Zeus utterly. We cannot call ‘Father’ the god who murdered our brother.”
“No!” Mom shouted.
“I understand,” said Apollo. “Zeus has too often been neglectful and harsh with his sons, god or demigod. But I remain devoted to him so that, as one of the Twelve, I can influence his realm and thus his followers.”
“Not our brother by Zeus,” they corrected. “Orpheus, the firstborn of our mother, Calliope.”
“You’re mistaken,” said Calliope. “Orpheus was killed by Dionysus’ Maenads because he would serve only Apollo, Dionysus’ chief rival.”
“Zeus executed Orpheus for discovering a great secret of his,” her sons told her. “Our brother was going to share this secret with the gods and mortals. Zeus killed him with a lightning bolt, and afterward tore his body to pieces so that his death would appear to be the work of the frenzied Maenads.”
“How can you know that?” Calliope asked in a low, stunned voice.
“As your mother does, we share the memories of the dead,” they answered her. “The last memory of our brother Orpheus is of the Cyclops pinning him to the earth as Zeus hurls a deadly thunderbolt into his heart.”
Calliope slowly turned her face toward Mom, her wrath growing with every degree of rotation. “You knew,” she smoldered. “How could you keep something like this from me? How could you let me believe a lie about the death of my only son?”
“For the same reason you gave up your children to Hades,” Mom calmly defended. “I wanted to protect you. Obviously, Zeus framed Dionysus to cover up the execution and, more importantly, Orpheus’ ‘crime’. It made sense. If either gods or mortals knew the truth, they would want to know what secret Orpheus discovered. Even they,” she indicated her newborn minions, “have the sense not to tell you what the secret was. And besides, I was worried about what you would have done.”
“What do you think I would have done?” Calliope demanded. “Do you think I would have stolen Apollo’s bow and quiver and gone after the Cyclops? Led an army, stormed Olympus, and bound Zeus like he bound the Titans? I’m a poet, Mom! I didn’t do anything to Dionysus, and anyone could take that prissy little bitch. All I did when Orpheus died was host a grand funeral, erect a monument, read a poem about his epic adventures in which Dionysus sounded really bad, and lock myself in my quarters and cry for a few decades,” she choked. “I know what I am. Except for a brief, incredibly ill-advised affair with Ares, I’ve never tried to be anything more.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Mom considered. “Maybe I should have told you. But, sweetheart, please understand that I was just doing what I believed was best for you at the time. That’s all a parent can do.”
Calliope and Mom held each other in silence for awhile. “Mom,” Calliope said at last, “can I stay here for a few days?”
“As many as you need to,” Mom said.
“We’d better get back to Parnassus before someone misses us,” said Apollo.
“And I’ve got to give Hera some well-crafted lie before she tells the whole pantheon I’m pregnant,” I remembered. “Um, catch you later, guys,” I waved to my surreal gaggle of nephews. “Have a great life.”
“If it be the will of Calliope,” the Corybantes said to me, “we will name you as our mother to all who inquire after our parentage.”
“It is,” said Calliope.
“And you, Apollo,” they said to him, “with your blessing, we claim you as the father of our souls. You are our mother’s guardian, and though never her lover, you are beloved of her.”
“As a friend,” Calliope added, her voice slightly muffled by Mom’s hair. “A handsome male friend.”
“I would be honored,” said Apollo. “And I would be honored if your mother were to pursue me as a lover, but if she did, I would have to concede that my love for her is that of a brother for a sister. Which is a shame, considering she’s one of the few goddesses who isn’t.”
“Neither is Thalia your sister,” they observed.
“We really should be going,” Apollo decided.
“We should,” I agreed.
We got to Helicon, teleported home, and cleaned up. We met in the throne room, and I summoned Hermes. “What’s up with the wedding?” I asked him.
“You missed all the excitement,” he gleefully informed us. “Well, maybe not all of it. There’s a double reception going on, and I’m betting it’ll last at least a week.”
“Double reception? Okay then, can you give Hera a message for me? Tell her, ‘Story’s over; I lost them. A party would cheer me up. Can I please be re-invited?’ You got it?”
“As good as done.” He returned almost as soon as he’d left. “She said to come on over and to bring a date if you want,” he relayed.
“Will you be my date?” I asked Apollo.
“Because I don’t know who else a poor desperate goddess could get on such short notice, yes.”
“I knew I could count on you to have no plans.”
A double reception, you ask? Here’s how it went down. By the time the wedding had been stalled for about an hour, Zeus and Hera got into a huge fight. Zeus said Hera’s son couldn’t get a woman to stick with him, Hera said at least her son could stick to one woman at a time, Zeus said it looked like zero women to him, yada yada yada. Finally, Zeus threatened to call the whole event off, and Hera protested that she wasn’t going to let a perfectly good wedding go to waste, so somebody had better get freakin’ married. Though no one knows if Hera meant it or not, Helios and Rhoda actually volunteered. My sisters were very grateful that Aglaea and Hephaestus had unequivocally vetoed personalized song lyrics.
Well, just as Helios and Rhoda’s ceremony was coming to an end, Hephaestus and Aglaea got back to Olympus. By the time they’d reached Helicon, they were overwhelmed with guilt about having gotten married without either of their families present. So they cleaned themselves up, took off their wedding rings, summoned Hera, explained that Aglaea had been called away on a medical emergency, and, to Hera’s great delight, got married all over again.
Aglaea was still made up by Hera and accessorized by Aphrodite, but since she’d already had a ceremony done her way, she didn’t really mind. Besides, she was glad to have Asclepius do the father’s part in the ceremony. He was a little more into it than Hades. And this time, when Hephaestus took possession of his captive bride, her sisters got in a tug of war with him (each of them making off with a bracelet), and when he abducted Aglaea in a chariot at the end of the ceremony, her valiant brothers pursued them as Eros fought them off with a volley of arrows. They were quickly distracted from their noble errand by two random women and one random man in attendance.
Naturally, when I got to the reception, Hera wanted to speak with me right away. The story I gave her was that Calliope and I had taken advantage of the time off and paid our mom a visit, and Apollo had come with me so we could tell Mom about her impending grandchildren together. Unfortunately, while we were there, I lost the babies. Hera pointed out rather astutely that the child of a god and a goddess can’t die, even in a miscarriage. I explained that, kids being kids, as soon as they started crawling around, they were picking things up and eating them. She understood. The babies were citizens of Hades, and that was that. I also told her that Calliope decided she wanted to stay at Mnemosyne and catch up with Mom for awhile. Hera was charmed by the thought of a nice goddess so attached to her mother. So, apparently we were in the clear. Nothing left to do but join the party.
But neither I nor Apollo felt like it. Besides the exhaustion from the nonstop worrying and plotting of the last couple of weeks, the day’s work had left us drained of our powers and in desperate need of recharging. We stole away to Artemis’ quarters for some peace and quiet. We knew she’d understand, and that she’d probably be doing the same thing if, darn it, she didn’t have to work tonight. I crashed on her bed, which was very deliberately narrow enough for only one person. Apollo took a couch, which was bigger than the bed.
“I didn’t get a chance to say this earlier,” I told Apollo, “but I’m sorry you had to hear all that.”
“Hear what?” he asked.
“You know, about Orpheus,” I said. “It must have brought up bad memories. Some graphic narrative, huh? Those guys are their mother’s sons, alright.”
“Yeah.” He laughed a little. “It’s kind of funny, isn’t it?” he contemplated. “The idea of you and me being their parents.”
“See, that there is why I’m the comedian. Me, not you.”
“I wonder what our children would be like.”
“According to Psyche, Aglaea is the child you and I should have had but never did,” I recounted. “Of course, this is the girl who calls me Eros’ big sister figure, so I wouldn’t put too much stock in her assessment.”
At that, Apollo laughed like I knew he’d been needing to laugh for weeks. Exhaustion is even better than alcohol for enhancing the brain’s ability to find things funny. “Are you a little disappointed that she married Hephaestus?” he asked when he could breathe again.
“Get over it,” I threw a pillow at him. “I haven’t felt that way about Hephaestus in ages. I’m not even sure how much I felt that way when we were dating. I mean, I thought I did at the time, but who really knows what they’re doing the first time around?”
“You talked about him enough.”
“Because you made it too much fun.”
“The story we heard tonight?”
“Promise me you won’t try to discover the secret.”
“Why?” I became alert. “Do you know what it is?”
“No, but that’s exactly what I’m talking about. You don’t mind not knowing something until you think someone doesn’t want you to know it.”
“No, I don’t. I mean, yes I do. I mean – the opposite of whatever you just said is what I mean. The thing you said is wrong.”
“Just promise me, please. You know how you felt today when you looked at my instruments and realized that you can’t handle assisting a surgery?”
“I’ll never forget it.” So he had noticed that. I’d been hoping he hadn’t.
“When I figured out what Zeus did to Calliope, I realized that I can’t handle losing any of you.” He paused. “I love you.” My throat swelled shut for the full second between this apparent admission and the hasty disclaimer that followed. “I – I mean, I love all of you. All nine of you. Your sisters feel as much like family to me as Artemis does, which is more than I can say for any of my real half-sisters.”
“And what about me?”
“I can’t lose you,” he repeated. “Please, promise me you won’t try to discover the secret.”
“I don’t want any trouble with Zeus,” I told him, “and I can’t lose you either. That’s all I can tell you.” Truth be told, I was getting the uncomfortable feeling that Apollo was right. I’d been so focused on the “Zeus murdered our baby” part of the story that I hadn’t even thought about Orpheus’ secret. However, now that Apollo was asking me to promise not to try to discover it, I couldn’t quite bring myself to make that promise. His response did surprise me a little. I’d thought he’d have been more focused on the execution part of the story, too. “Apollo?”
“You’re just like me. And you’re about to say ‘No need to be insulting’,” I informed him.
“So now you’re a prophecy goddess, too?” he teased.
“You think I’m dying to discover the secret because you are.”
“But I have enough sense not to defy Zeus.”
“Something you learned by defying Zeus. I’ve never done anything of the sort.”
“And what exactly did you do today?”
“Thought outside the box,” I replied in brazen bliss. “You know what, we should get home before Artemis comes to bed in the morning and finds us asleep in her room.”
“She won’t care,” he said. “She’ll just sleep in Athena’s quarters. She does it all the time.”
“Okay,” I dropped my arm off the side of the bed. Apollo got up, shoved my arm onto the bed, and pulled the covers over me. He smoothed the hair off my face and looked at me for a moment as though trying to make a decision. Apparently he made it.
“Sweet dreams,” he tenderly taunted. I pummeled him with my remaining pillow, and then rolled over and fell right to sleep.
Another dreamland visit to the Fates. I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming.
“So, how did I do?” I asked them.
“We remain unsure,” said Lachesis. “The Corybantes were our will to begin with.”
“Do you want to be on record as saying that what Zeus did to my sister was your will?” I warned.
“It was our will that she and Zeus create offspring together,” said Clotho, spinning out seven identical threads. “Zeus could have gone anywhere in search of a woman. We sent him to the Museum at Helicon. Any of the Muses, indeed, any woman from the feast could have met him at Helicon that night. We chose the Muse Calliope. Do not complicate the issue.”
“Well, my will was for the well-being of my sister and her children, something you obviously didn’t care about in the least,” I seethed. “All kinds of things could have gone wrong with the babies, with the operation,” I said. “None of them did. Zeus never checked up on Calliope to see whether she was pregnant or made any attempt to take the babies, which he usually does when he impregnates a particularly gifted goddess. And Hera! Hera always finds out, but she didn’t this time.”
“That may have been your influence,” Lachesis conceded with some reluctance.
“On the other hand,” Atropos offered, “what of Calliope receiving news of Orpheus’ death? Hardly the ‘happily ever after’ you attempted to conjure. It is, however, perfectly in keeping with Calliope’s domain.”
“So my power doesn’t cancel another Muse’s,” I accepted. “I didn’t think it would. It makes more sense that our powers would enhance each other’s, anyway. Our mother created us so that our strongest powers work in tandem. But forget about my sisters’ powers; wasn’t the real issue whether I could influence yours? In fact,” I theorized, “maybe Calliope influenced you choosing her to bear the Corybantes in the first place. She’s been wanting to have an adventure of her own, and this experience certainly qualifies. This was her story. And before you say her role was too passive to truly be a protagonist, that plot to have an Asclepian in Hades and deliver the babies to that kingdom? That was all her idea.”
“Perhaps we should test your sister as well, then,” Lachesis pondered.
“No,” I quickly protested. The Muse of Comedy deliberately challenging the Fates was one thing. The Muse of Epic Poetry doing so was a terrifying prospect.
“Very well,” Clotho sighed. “We shall restrict our trials to you for the time being. We see now that we must eliminate your sisters from the trials as well as the love gods. This will take some doing. The nine of you are so closely intertwined,” she fingered a thick, colorful cord.
“That’ll be a challenge, alright,” I agreed. “Wait, you’re going to pick the subject? That’s not fair!”
“We can see the full picture,” said Atropos. “We alone can ensure that the subject is not under the influence of another Muse or a love god.”
“Okay, first of all, I think I have a pretty good idea of who the Muses are influencing. Second, a person outside the influence of either love or art ought to be pretty easy to spot. That sounds like the very definition of needing laughter and a happy ending. Third, if you tell me who to focus my hypothetical powers on, then you, the Fates, are predestining that person for a happy ending, which makes my contribution moot, which would give you more opportunities to toy with me and interrupt my sleep.”
“She is shrewd,” Clotho observed. “As to your second point,” she addressed me, “do you truly believe you would recognize such a one?”
“Yeah, I think I could.”
“Very well,” said Atropos. “When you do, you may speak to us about her.”
“Maybe I will, maybe I won’t,” I breezed.
They stood and surrounded me, holding their hands together like rails on a fence. In one icy, menacing voice, they stated, “We believe you will.”